Agenda-less Meetings (AMs) seem to be increasing in popularity,
and for obvious reasons. AMs provide a valuable opportunity for colleagues
to spend time together, unfettered by rigid timelines or other constraints.
This page will help you organize AMs. It includes the following topics:
How to Run an Agenda-less Meeting
Paradoxically, the best AMs require careful planning. To prepare
for your AM, be sure to:
Although the meeting itself does not have an agenda, you do;
these steps will make your AM more effective:
Have someone unusual call the AM. If you are the chair, ask one of the
members to announce it; they will appreciate the confidence you have in them.
If you are a manager, have a subordinate announce the AM, or better yet,
have your manager do it; this will make you and the AM seem particularly important.
As a last resort, have someone else's secretary do it.
People are more likely to attend the AM if there is something unusual about it.
Don't try to schedule the AM at a convenient time for all of the attendees;
announce an arbitrary time, preferably one that conflicts with other activities,
to make everyone realize how urgent the AM is.
If possible, schedule the AM at the last minute, or change the time and/or location of the AM.
Avoid having any acknowledged "experts" at the AM, since their rigid preconceptions
may hinder the free exchange of ideas.
Invite unannounced guests to the AM - the other attendees will be impressed,
and will be more likely to attend future AMs since someone important might be there.
Don't distribute any materials in advance of the meeting, since they might
suggest an agenda, and people will probably forget to bring them anyway.
Careful followup is necessary to truly maximize the impact of your AM:
Bring numerous handouts, and be sure they do not have staples, paperclips,
or page numbers, so that your colleagues can rearrange them.
Materials that are "hot off the press" impress upon everyone the urgency of the AM.
Don't distribute all of the handouts at the beginning, or noone will pay attention;
instead, dole them out a page at a time as they become relevant.
If most people arrive on time, wait a few extra minutes for stragglers;
this will allow everyone some time to reflect upon the importance of your
AM and get into the proper frame of mind. Conversely,
if a significant number of people are not on time, start without them;
they will "hit the ground running" , stimulating the entire meeting.
Don't introduce any guests until they start to speak;
the suspense will keep everyone more alert.
Don't bother to call or write someone individually when you can talk to
them during the AM. They'll be flattered by the attention, and the presence
of other people will lend additional weight to your words.
Save the most important topics until the end of the AM, and bring them
up one at a time if anyone tries to leave early. Remind everyone that time
is limited, so that discussion should be kept to an absolute minimum.
Don't distribute minutes to the AM, since they might provide an unneeded
framework for your next AM.
Besides, everyone who attended the AM will remember what happened.
Anyone who missed the AM will wonder (and worry about) what happened,
which will encourage them to attend the next AM.
If you must distribute minutes, wait as long as possible to do so.
For example, if you distribute minutes at the start of the next meeting,
everyone can spend a few minutes reading to remember how important the last meeting was,
and to identify any action items they might have forgotten about.
Make veiled references to the importance of the AM and to the strong consensus
that emerged; this will make other people realize how effective your AMs are.
Frequently Asked Questions
This section contains sample materials which have been used successfully in AMs.
Names and other key details have been removed so that you can insert your own information.
If you find or develop additional materials, please contribute them to our archive.
Stealth Agenda-less Meetings
If you are required to have an agenda, don't give up! You can still use
a Stealth Agenda-less Meeting (SAM) to achieve many of the
goals of a regular AM while placating anyone not yet comfortable with AMs.
Here are some suggestions:
Use open-ended and inclusive agenda items such as "remarks from the Chair",
"general discussion", "summary", or "subcommittee reports".
Rearrange the order of agenda items, preferably during the meeting itself.
Provide an unrealistic timeline for agenda items.
The views expressed in this parody are the responsibility
of Clif Kussmaul, firstname.lastname@example.org.